Dealing with the ripples from the US-China rift

Asia News Network commentators share their views on the ongoing US-China tiff and its implications for their countries. Here are excerpts.

New security risks

Bobby Tuazon
Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte faces in 2019 new security risks in the South China Sea (SCS), as the United States steps up its war games in the Philippines, up to the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

On Sept 28, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) agreed to ramp up joint war exercises to 281 next year, from 258 in 2017 and 261 this year.

Mutual defence and counter-terrorism will mark next year's war games, aside from humanitarian and disaster response.

The new deal is a volte-face on President Duterte's 2016 pledge to end all US-Philippine war games, which was later softened to just non-combat training.

The new plan will involve a coalition of states aligned with or friendly to the United States, to challenge what the Pentagon calls China's maritime expansionism and militarisation in the SCS.

The new security menu is taking shape amid USINDOPACOM's enhanced freedom of navigation operations (Fonops) in the SCS, backed by B-52 bombers, to assert international rules, maintain balance of power, and protect US primacy in the SCS and the whole Indo-Pacific. Recent US sea operations have been joined by warships from the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.

Retaliating at the "provocations", China has turned from issuing diplomatic protests to sending, last Sept 30, the PRC Layung destroyer, forcing the missile-guided USS Decatur to change course as it manoeuvred within 19km of Gaven Reef in the Spratlys.

China has ratcheted up its response by denying US port calls in Hong Kong and calling off diplomatic and security talks with Washington.

Such rising tensions should not be taken casually, as they come on the heels of US President Donald Trump's bleeding tariff war with China, which will likely hit all its US$505 billion (S$695 billion) exports to the United States next year.

Japan-Australia must cooperate for regional stability

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

Security cooperation built up by Japan and Australia should be steadily linked to the stability of Asia.

The Japanese and Australian governments held a meeting of their foreign and defence ministers - the so-called two-plus-two talks - in Sydney.

With an eye towards China, a country beefing up its maritime presence, both sides agreed to promote the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy", and released a joint statement.

China has been unilaterally setting up military footholds in the South China Sea, raising tensions with its neighbouring countries.

In order to consolidate "freedom of navigation" and "the rule of law", it is vital for the international community as one to urge China to exercise self-restraint.

During the Japan-Australia defence ministerial meeting, both sides agreed to accelerate the negotiations over a "visiting forces agreement," which will enable both the Self-Defence Force (SDF) and the Australian forces to smoothly carry out joint drills in each other's countries.

The defence ministers of both countries also agreed on conducting the first-ever fighter jet exercise in Japan next year.

Security order in Asia and the Pacific region has been maintained under US leadership. But the foreign policy pursued by US President Donald Trump, who puts the economy of his country first, differs from that of previous US administrations, which placed importance on the country's allies.

The necessity for Japan and Australia to broaden their cooperation with each other in the sphere of security, and deepen their connections, has grown further.

Small states are suffering

Lynn Ockersz
The Island, Sri Lanka

The new attack on Beijing brings the amount of goods hit by duties to more than US$250 billion, roughly half of Chinese exports to the United States and increasingly, consumers will feel the pain in their wallets directly.

There is a deafening "Sound and Fury" currently on economic issues among Sri Lanka's political antagonists with the citizens' hope of having more "light" than "heat" in such fierce verbal duals steadily receding.

What should be plain to see is the extreme vulnerability of small states, such as Sri Lanka, to external economic forces and tendencies.

This is a result of Sri Lanka opting for a policy of economic globalisation over the decades .

Sri Lanka fell head over heels for the "open economy" in the mid-Seventies, little realising that she was going to be at the mercy of fluid, unpredictable international economic developments.

Small states tossed around by the dramatic changes in the volatile international economy need to think of medium-and long-term economic stabilisation strategies, but their short-term interests would be best served by the principle of cordiality and friendship towards all.

It will depend on the diplomatic skills of these small states to walk this ideological tight rope without tilting this way or that way.

Islamabad can benefit

Nasir Jamal
Dawn, Pakistan

The ongoing trade war between China and the United States can boost the prospects of Pakistani exports to the American market and encourage Chinese producers to relocate to Pakistan to avoid punitive tariffs on their US shipments and take advantage of cheaper labour.

On top of that, business leaders say it may afford Islamabad an opportunity to renegotiate the terms of China's future investments in and trade with Pakistan.

Mr Abdul Razzak Dawood, adviser to the prime minister on trade, industry and investment, was quoted last week to have told a gathering of textile manufacturers in Karachi that the trade war between the world's two largest economies could be beneficial for Pakistan.

"The trade war between China and the United States is getting bigger and bigger by the day... and the demand for goods is not declining (in the US market). Pakistan needs to explore ways so that it can benefit from this war."

Chinese manufacturers can ward off punitive tariffs on their exports to the United States by relocating their labour-intensive industries to Pakistan.

Pakistan is already seeking the same market access for its exports that Beijing has given to Asean, New Zealand and Australia under the 2006 Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Moreover, efforts are on to convince Beijing to encourage its manufacturers to relocate their industry to Pakistan.•

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media organisations.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2018, with the headline Dealing with the ripples from the US-China rift. Subscribe